Image: Saint Francis in Ecstasy, El Greco (ca. 1577-1580)
Yet So As By Fire: A Passion Play in Two Acts
by Anton Bonnici (Paris, France)
THE Faculty Lounge is proud to present its first work of fiction, an extract from Yet So As By Fire (2021), a Passion Play by Anton Bonnici, reproduced by kind permission of the author. Yet So As By Fire takes a walk on the dark side of the picturesque Mediterranean island of Malta, where hysteric religion, corrupt politics, and twisted media have coalesced into a vortex so potent that it can perhaps only be undone by fiction.
Victoria Sultana, a respected, religious woman, begins to suffer from the same holy wounds as Jesus Christ. Then, on an apparently regular Friday in May 2010, Victoria experiences the entirety of the Passion of the Christ and dies. Soon, her husband, family, and friends have taken to television, singing her praises and claiming her to have been a saint walking amongst us. Could there be more to Victoria Sultana’s death, or was her painful fate simply, and truly, God’s plan?
The following scenes are from the middle of the first act, where we get to witness Victoria’s first mystical attack of the day…
DOWNSTAGE LEFT is a small office setup; a desk and two chairs. VICTORIA is interviewing a potential INTERN.
VICTORIA: So why do you want to work here?
INTERN: I just finished my degree in media and publishing, so now I need to get some real life experience in the industry. This would be a great opportunity for me / to learn about…
VICTORIA: What do you think we do here Lydia?
INTERN: You publish two magazines, right?
VICTORIA: No. Not at all. If we published two magazines it wouldn’t be me here, right now, sitting behind this desk. It would be someone else running this place. I wouldn’t put all my life’s work, commitment and faith in publishing two magazines.
INTERN: Sorry, I’m not understanding…
VICTORIA: Of course you’re not understanding. You can’t understand. You’ve just spent three to four years at that brothel they call a university. All you can understand are pagan words because they siphoned out of you all the words they don’t want you to understand ever again. Once you’ve walked through these doors though Lydia, once you’ve walked in here, you’ve walked into another world, a world that means something deeper, something of actual, real significance. What we do here matters more than anything else happening out there. Try again. Take a look at this. What are you holding there in your hands?
VICTORIA puts the latest two issues of her magazines in the INTERN’s hands. The INTERN looks at them with a befuddled expression.
INTERN: These are the two latest issues of your magazines, Iesus and Sagra Familia.
VICTORIA: You are still using the words they taught you at university…
INTERN: I’m sorry Mrs. Sultana, / I can’t…
VICTORIA: What you’re holding there, in your hands, Lydia, is the WILL of GOD. The. Will. Of. God. Lydia. This is what we do here and only this. Nothing more and nothing less. This is my calling, and the calling of every single human being I deem worthy of being part of this endeavour. At every single step in the carving and the weaving of this work, we make sure, guarantee, that all of it, from the typing of the first words to the pictures we put in it and the businesses that advertise on it—every single tiny step that makes these two receptacles come into existence—is only and exactly what God wants, and what God is willing into being. See why I can’t have just anybody working here? Do you think that a person who is unable to recognize the Will of God when holding it in their very bare hands is actually worthy of committing their mind, body and soul to becoming a part of that very Will?
INTERN: I think I’m understanding better now what you mean. It is very important for your staff to be dedicated to the mission statement / of this enterprise…
VICTORIA: Did what I just tell you sound like a mission statement to you? Is that what you think I’m doing right now? Teaching you our “mission statement”?
INTERN: Well, I think, / I’m only trying to…
VICTORIA: When was the last time you prayed Lydia?
VICTORIA: Prayer. When was the last time you knelt in prayer and prayed to the Lord for the sake of your soul and the souls of your loved ones?
INTERN: I’m not the praying type Mrs. Sultana.
VICTORIA: I figured as much. So let’s reschedule another appointment and make a small plan. You take with you Iesus and Sagra Familia today, take some time to understand better what we do here, and let these words help you find your path back to prayer. And then we’ll meet again to see if you’re better prepared to become a partner in God’s Will.
INTERN: I thought / maybe…
VICTORIA: In three weeks’ time, is that good for you?
INTERN: I should be free, I guess…
VICTORIA: Perfect. See you in three weeks then.
INTERN: Thank you…for your time.
VICTORIA: God bless you dear.
SECRETARY: So, when is she starting?
VICTORIA: I doubt she’ll ever be starting but I’m giving her a second interview in three weeks for the benefit of the doubt.
SECRETARY: She was sent here by Madam First Lady herself. You’re expected to employ her.
VICTORIA: Madam First Lady knows I don’t do favours. If she wants to find the girl a job she should have put her in charge of one of her thousand charities. Anyway, don’t waste your time worrying about any of that. I’ll deal with Madam First Lady. Have the writers all handed in their pieces for our next issue?
SECRETARY: Yes madam, it’s all being proofread as we speak.
VICTORIA: Good. That’s everything for now.
SECRETARY: Thank you madam.
VICTORIA: Has my husband called by any chance?
SECRETARY: No madam, you did not have any calls.
VICTORIA: Do let me know if he does.
VICTORIA picks up her mobile phone from the inside of her jacket which is hung on the chair behind her desk. She dials and waits. No reply. VICTORIA doesn’t leave a message. She puts the phone back in her jacket, gets her office desk phone and dials. She puts the sound on speakerphone.
VICTORIA: May I speak to Mr. George Sultana please.—This is Mrs. Sultana.—long pause—What do you mean he’s not in today?—May I speak to his colleague then?—May you please tell Mr Camilleri that Victoria Sultana is waiting on the phone.—long pause—Hi John.—That’s why I’m calling, I’m having difficulty getting a hold of him too. He’s not at the Ministry?—Sick? That’s what his message said?—And when was this?—I see. I’ll make sure to pass him the message when I talk to him.
VICTORIA puts the phone back down and stares into the empty space ahead of her. Snippets of earlier conversations start coming back to her in voiceover.
HUSBAND (V.O.): Listen, I was thinking, why don’t we go on a little holiday? Pack a little suitcase each and disappear for a couple of days?—You’ll do fine Victoria. I know you will. Everything will be fine.—I know you won’t give up.
As VICTORIA hears these words playing over and over again we can see a red stain appearing on her white blouse, on her right side, just below her ribs. Then she feels a sharp pain and falls to the floor on her knees. She’s holding her side where the stain has appeared and with her other hand she grabs the wastebasket from underneath the desk and pulls it towards her. She throws up violently.
Her SECRETARY walks in alarmed. VICTORIA stays on the floor buckled over in front of the wastebasket with hand outstretched to keep her SECRETARY away from her. Her SECRETARY tries to come close to help but VICTORIA pushes her away.
VICTORIA: I’m fine! Don’t touch me.
VICTORIA: I said I’m fine! Just give me a minute. This will pass.
Her SECRETARY runs out. VICTORIA puts the wastebasket away and sits up against her desk. She removes a glove and puts a hand inside her blouse to examine her side. She winces when she touches herself and the hand comes back out all bloody. Then she looks at her palm and a look of horror passes over her face. She removes the other glove and looks at both her palms. Each one is extremely sore with blood oozing out of them. She lifts both palms up as if showing them to God.
VICTORIA: Oh Lord, why today? Why does it have to be today?
Her SECRETARY comes back holding a glass of water but is immediately shocked as soon as she sees VICTORIA sitting on the floor with both hands upturned and bloody. As soon as VICTORIA notices her presence she puts her gloves back on and stands up, regaining some composure. Throughout the rest of this dialogue, she’s putting on her jacket and packing her things to leave the office.
SECRETARY: I thought you might need a glass of water.
VICTORIA: No thanks, I’m fine, I don’t need anything.
SECRETARY: But it’s just some water…
VICTORIA: Why are you tempting me so? You know what I live on; the Word of God, and the Body and Blood of Christ. That’s all I need. I already heard Mass this morning before coming to the office, my nourishment has already been taken care of so I don’t need anything else to sustain me. I just need to rest a little and I’ll be fine. I’m going home, I’ll continue my work from there.
SECRETARY: I’ll postpone the rest of your appointments for the day.
VICTORIA: Yes please, and pray do keep this episode private.
SECRETARY: I understand madam, but, excuse my forwardness, I don’t mean to offend, but don’t you think it would be wise to see a doctor?
VICTORIA: My experiences, Suzanne, are not experiences that may be understood by just anyone and people tend to misinterpret what they don’t understand. Misinterpretations give rise to confusion, ignorance and lies. My work here is to execute the Will of God, and it is my responsibility to ensure that the Will of God is never entangled in confusion, ignorance and lies. So, you see why, Suzanne, it might not always be wise to see a doctor?
SECRETARY: I understand. I’m sorry.
VICTORIA: No need to be sorry. All you need is faith—faith and more faith. God bless you dear.
SECRETARY makes the sign of the cross and starts crying.
End of Extract
Yet So As By Fire is available from:
- La Bête Noire, 58 Rue Henri Barbusse, 75005, Paris, France,
- Kixott, 169 Triq il-Kbira, MST 1015, Mosta, Malta,
- and all major online booksellers.